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A Yuja Wang Dress Report, Prokofiev 2, and the Munich Philharmonic in Brahms

Back in May of this year: A nice day, an empty concert hall. And many—more than half of Munich’s Philharmonic Hall 2500 capacity, I’d guess—seat cushions staring at Yuja Wang devilling through the Prokofiev Second Piano Concerto—accompanied by the relative no-name conductor Michał Nesterowicz who replaced, to the best of his considerable ability—the late Lorin Maazel.

Mademoiselle Wang played the work a touch cool and subdued, despite near-ostentatious technical facility and ferocity… calm even in the most precarious moments. Perhaps the acoustic in the Philharmonic Hall—which I hadn’t experienced for some time—had something to do with the slight sense of détaché. All the Tees were crossed, all the Eyes were dotted and yet something was missing. (To have last heard the work with the new Munich Philharmonic Music Director Valery Gergiev the Mariinsky Orchestra and Denis Kozhukhin in the (literally) Great Hall of the Wiener Konzerthaus—part of a Prokofiev marathon of all five piano concertos—might have contributed to that, too.)

There’s not a woman that goes on stage—or not very many, at least—that doesn’t spend considerable thought on the dress she will wear. I’ve met a conductor who will even carefully match her wardrobe to the composer she will perform: I reckon a little black dress (something short) for Anton Webern; something more random for John Cage, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she’ll don for Boulez later this year, also at the Konzerthaus.

available at Amazon
Y.Wang / Simón Bolívar SO / G.Dudamel

available at Amazon
J.Brahms, Symphony No.1,
G.Wand / MPhil
Profil Hässler

Lecherous old goats like the well-known click-bait master (a master-baiter, you might say) Norman Lebrecht will of course suggest or feel that the likes of Yuja Wang dress only to attract old men. Then again, there are those who sense sexism behind everything (like said master-baiter, when the Berlin Philharmonic has again neglected to make a woman their chief conductor), and certainly behind writing about a woman’s dress. Well, put a fork in either of those types: when Yuja Wang goes on stage (ditto Frau Mutter or Renée Fleming), a dress report is mandatory.

Dress report: Full length midnight-purple gown, skin-tight, with a few sparkles; extraordinary conservative by her standards, with only a left shoulder asymmetrically exposed, and windows on the right side, at the height where a less lissome person’s love handles would be.

Encores came, and often they (or generally the smaller pieces) are the most fun Moments of Wang: Horowitz’s Carmen Fantasy was absurd as in: bloody amazing. Frivolous were the contrasts in Arcadi Volodos’ take on Mozart’s ‘Turkish March”—something that sounded like an inspired collaboration between Earl Wild and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Fun was being had.

I didn’t so much look forward to a Brahms First Symphony, to be honest… especially knowing so little about the conductor and so much about the orchestra’s occasional habit of not playing ball, when they are not lead by someone they greatly approve. I was proven wrong, but subtly. Michał Nesterowicz didn’t go in for individual fingerprints on the score, which is as likely a good thing as it is not. Nor, it seemed, for much personality. But all movements were performed with some vim and cohesion and morale and the whole symphony, broad and broadly enjoyable, confirmed that this is probably the greatest First Symphony ever written. (What’s the serious competition, anyway? Shostakovich I suppose… and anyone else?) The concert master was laying it on thick in his solo moments in the second movement, but did it well. A set of delicious piano pizzicatos stood out in the third movement. Nesterowicz ended it with plenty oomph and a lyrical stretch and in its unspectacular way, the whole thing had been really very good.

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